THE largest police investigation into child sex abuse in Northern Ireland has been launched after 22 potential victims were identified.
It is understood the PSNI investigation relates to vulnerable children in care homes, and involves more than one criminal gang.
The victims are believed to be aged between 13 and 18, although the homes are not identified.
Officers launched the probe after a review of cases involving children who went missing from care over the last 18 months.
A PSNI spokesman said: "As part of this review, we have identified a group of 22 young people who may be at risk from child sexual exploitation and are seeking to identify those who may have committed crimes."
It is believed that the victims were lured to parties where they were plied with drink and drugs in exchange for sex.
Police said they could not provide specific details about alleged incidents at this stage.
Detectives are working alongside social workers in what has been described as an "extremely complex" investigation.
Mr Poots said that a significant amount of men were under investigation.
"A lot of the men are young men, some of them are as old as 60," Mr Poots told UTV.
"Young people under the age of consent are being used for sexual purposes."
Mr Poots said he had established a joint working team with the PSNI.
"The safeguarding board have been looking into this and how we can safeguard children," he added.
Stormont Justice Committee Chairman Paul Givan has called a special joint meeting of the Justice and Health Committees on Monday. The PSNI vowed its response will be "victim centred and offender focused".